ALBUQUERQUE -- Putting it in a Chicago perspective, Florida State's move from the Metro Conference to the Atlantic Coast Conference is sort of like going from a modest bungalow in Rogers Park to a glitzy condo on the Magnificent Mile.
But no matter where you live in Chicago, you can't beat City Hall. And it remains to be seen if Florida State can beat Indiana.
Those teams meet again tonight in the opening semifinal of the NCAA West Regional. The last time they met was a year ago in the tourney's second round. Indiana had the clout and lowered the boom on the Metro champion, 82-60.
This season, Florida State (22-9) was the ACC regular-season runner-up, but coach Pat Kennedy believes he now has a team that is much better physically and mentally prepared to cope with Bob Knight's Hoosiers (25-6).
"The best players want to play in the most competitive environment, and they want to be seen by the public," Kennedy said yesterday. "The competition in the ACC has raised us to this level.
"A good example was last year when we played Indiana. We were focused and intense, but there was still an awe of Indiana. This year, we just take the floor and do our thing."
After being upset by Purdue on the last day of the Big Ten season and blowing a tie for the title, it's unlikely the Hoosiers will take Florida State lightly.
"Last year they had us down at halftime, but we came back and took control," said Indiana sophomore guard Damon Bailey. "They're a year older and have everybody back. Just the experience will help them. They know how to win games this time."
"They have beaten some very good teams this year, and they know how to react a lot better," agreed Bailey's backcourt partner, junior Chris Reynolds. "Sam Cassell is a great player. If we don't contain him, we'll have big problems."
This will be Indiana's introduction to Cassell, a 6-foot-3 junior guard from Dunbar who once wanted to go to DePaul but couldn't do well enough on the Scholastic Aptitude Test. Last year at this time, Cassell was an outstanding junior college star for San Jacinto. He adapted readily to the ACC, averaging 18 points and improving steadily on defense.
Offsetting the presence of Cassell is the absence of sophomore Charlie Ward, the football quarterback who ran the offense from point guard and led the ACC in steals. Ward dislocated his left shoulder in the first-round victory over Montana and isn't expected to play tonight.
Having to play without Ward, Kennedy said, was "a true rallying point for us" when the Seminoles surmounted a nine-point, first half-deficit and defeated Georgetown, 78-68, to earn the rematch with Indiana.
In the other West semifinal, Pac-10 champion UCLA (27-4) will be introduced to the matchup zone defense of New Mexico State (25-7).
New Mexico State is just 210 miles south of Albuquerque, and a legion of its fanatic followers are making the pilgrimage here in hopes of aiding the downfall of UCLA, top seed in the regional and ranked fourth in the nation.
"It might be an advantage for them, but we've played in places like Arizona, USC and Notre Dame, so we're used to it," said 6-10 UCLA forward Don MacLean, a second-team All-American. "If we just play our ballgame, we'll be all right."